Since 1999 I have been actively working in IT – working my way up from doing tech support via phone for a software company to being the IT and manager I am today. Along the way I moved into system administration, systems engineering, and systems architecture. In 2005 I started specializing in computer virtualization which then helped me to land jobs at high-profile companies with interesting and challenging environments.
Over the course of my IT career I had quite a few job interviews – some easy, some boring, some challenging, and some very interesting. Early in my IT career I interviewed the heck out of things. The dot com boom was in full swing and I was trying to use that momentum to position myself in an area I was very interested in. My original professional background is in business finance and somehow I expected/knew that the party/good times of the dot com boom would come to an end at one point and I wanted to be in the right place when that happened. I interviewed a lot with different companies and made many rookie mistakes. There are two interview experiences that really stuck out back then. In both cases I failed to make the cut and did not get the job.
Those two job interview experiences hurt because in both cases I really liked the companies, the team, and the position. I ended up in a good spot anyway, but from there on I took a more methodical approach when I interviewed for a new job. I knew which mistakes I had made at those two specific interviews I mentioned before and I swore to myself that this would not happen again. From there on I analyzed every job interview in detail. I kept track of how my responses to questions were received (body language anyone?!) and from there fine-tuned my interview responses. My job interviews got better and better I was almost always able to master those interviews that really mattered to me.
Now you might wonder what does that have to with interview advice for IT professionals. Well, as I moved up in my career I became involved in the hiring process and suddenly found myself on the other side of the job interview table. Now I was interviewing people that wanted a job with the company where I worked. It felt quite different to ask the job interview questions and to see how the different candidates replied. Later on I became the hiring manager and took on more responsibilities in that part of my job. It was there when I realized how difficult it seemed for many IT professionals to deliver during a job interview. I know that my own interview experience as a hiring manager only represents a small fraction of the hiring that is going on in the market, but I am sure there many of those awkward job interview experiences happening every day.
Just recently I was trying to fill a senior level system administrator position and the experience with the different candidates was just frustrating. For one I blame the company’s applicant tracking system to not deliver me the best candidates, but then I was also shocked how weak many of the candidates interviewed. Keep in mind these were candidates interviewing for a senior level position, but what I saw often did not come close to confirm that. I usually start the interview process with a phone screen where I put the candidates through a matching technical question catalog with questions being fairly easy and allowing me to go deep if the candidate seemed to be able to backup knowledge he/she had “advertised” on their resume. If the candidate made it through a 30-minute technical interview I then invited them to an in-person interview. During those in-person interviews the candidate would meet with myself as well as 3 other team members for a total of about 2 hours (30 minutes each with the candidate). After that we compared our individual sessions with the candidate and then determined if we had a winner or not. It was very interesting to hear the different opinions and experiences when putting the candidate through the process.
Having done this many times now I suspect that there must be quite a few IT professionals out there that wonder why they aren’t landing the jobs they are interviewing for. I see interviewing as a skill that needs to be learned and that can be learned, but I am probably in a minority group of people that thinks that way.
There are a few things that I would like to discuss at this point. Technical Interview: I can’t really help with the technical interview as you (the candidate) need to know your stuff. Whatever you show on your resume as a skill or experience, you need to be able to back that up with actual knowledge.
But when it comes to regular interview questions, especially behavioral interview questions – that is something you can learn, that is something where an online interview training can get you ahead of your competition. You might think why does this only apply to IT people and I would say, it probably doesn’t. However, from my experience too many IT professionals are not really good in job interviews. It could be that they are introverts or unsure really about the value they really represent as IT professionals. Job interviews can be intimidating and it is like it is with everything in life – practice, practice, practice.
In addition to simple job interview practice there are some key components that can make a significant difference during a job interview. Combining IT knowledge with normal job interview responses helps to build a significant amount of credibility. The higher the position you are applying for, the more important this type of credibility is. Depending on what position I am interviewing for, I try to map out certain responses to questions that I expect to hit me. This type of preparation has helped to walk into an interview with more confidence and in return has helped to secure more job offers.
About the Author
This article was written by Christoph Puetz, an IT Professional with almost 18 years of experience on the job. Christoph is currently employed as an IT Lead, but also operates a side-business where he provides coaching and consulting services. In addition, here operates a website dedicated to job interviews, LinkedIn Profile Optimization, and job search. On that website members learn about how to optimize their LinkedIn profiles, how to fine-tune their resume, how to jump-start their job search, and of course how to master very difficult job interviews. The website is called Interview Playbook and provides 4 premium training courses for a very low fee.